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City must hammer home treble advantage

Updated: May 4

Manchester City can clinch a treble on Wednesday night as they battle to be Champions of England three seasons in a row. It wouldn’t be that of the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup – so consistently played down by Pep Guardiola. No, this would be one of – as the City fans would have it – ‘Tearing Cockneys apart again!”

50 and counting - Haaland hits the half century mark.

The lyrics of the exuberant terrace chant were wholly applicable in the wake of a City masterclass, one where Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal were out thought, out played and out gunned in midweek.

Johnny, Johnny Stones...

In a much vaunted and eagerly anticipated match up of the reigning champions of England and the wannabe champions from north London – resplendent with Gabriel Jesus and Aleks Zinchenko, returning to the scene of former glories in sky blue – City annihilated the Gooners, with the 4-1 score line flattering the visitors.

'City tearing Cockneys apart again...'

While the mass media and so called pundits proclaimed the title race virtually over Guardiola – forever the pragmatist – kept things in perspective: “We are still two points behind them!”

Thankfully that changed as City ground out a tough and less than spectacular 2-1 away victory over a feisty Fulham. Whereas Arsenal had been totally schooled by a City side firing on all cylinders, the clash at Craven Cottage was one of City having learned a vital lesson, after previously beating Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates in February.

Alvarez celebrates his wonder strike at Fulham.

Guardiola’s team had risen to the top of the table only to be dislodged less than 72 hours later after a profligate and inexplicable 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest. With 73% possession and 23 shots at Keylor Navas’ goal, the two points dropped looked like a costly loss.

Dismay for Gundogan and Haaland at Forest.

A similar mishap against Marco Silva’s fighting Fulham would’ve left City still second in the table, a point adrift of the team who couldn’t so much as lay a glove on them at the Etihad.

Sunday was just the 14th night City had sat at the pinnacle of the Premier League this season, compared with Arsenal who had enjoyed 247 at the summit since last August.

Haaland - Because he's worth it!

With a tangible point advantage, a +14 goal difference, plus a game in hand, City have to hammer home their superiority when they take on their third consecutive fixture featuring opponents from London – relegation-haunted West Ham.

The last time City lost in any competition – February 5th – also had a connection with the capital city – the seemingly mandatory seasonal defeat by Tottenham at the splendiferous Spurs Stadium.

Super Jack put Liverpool to the sword in City's 4-1 win.

Since then City have gone 18 games undefeated with just three draws at Forest, RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich – a run which has seen them progress to the FA Cup Final, the Champions League semi final and string together eight straight Premier League wins.

Rodri's super strike was the beginning of the end for Bayern.

The possibility – not the probability – of the most prestigious treble in any top flight league in Europe, seemed highly implausible prior to City’s rich vein of form since early February. Only after floundering at Forest did City chalk up more than three Premier League victories on the spin.

Emotional Foden celebrates the opener against Newcastle.

With just nine games left – hopefully ten – of the 2022/23 campaign, City could surpass the achievements of Pep’s Centurions of 2018 and Fourmidables of 2019. It’s a tad strange to think this could potentially be the greatest season in the 129-year old history of Manchester City FC.

KDB gives City the lead over Liverpool.

Perversely, the feelgood factor so prominent in 2018 and 2019 doesn’t seem to have been so prevalent throughout this season – until recent weeks. It might not be a view shared by other City supporters.

Perhaps having the season punctuated by a winter World Cup has meddled with the mindset. Perhaps being cheated out of points at both Anfield and Old Trafford by horrendous officiating and dubious VAR interpretations has a part to play.

The Barnsley Beckenbauer celebrates against Leicester.

Looking at City as they stand on the threshold of football immortality, it’s a wholly illogical thought process, but there was a certain inconsistency in the team’s performances, prior to what is now the perception of ‘Typical City’ under Pep.

Pep demands the very best from his players.

Maybe it was the fundamental change in the defensive structure – the frequent deployment of three centre backs and the move away from a more traditional flat back four – along with a seemingly never ending rotation of personnel e.g. Ake, Akanji, Dias, Stones, Laporte, Walker, Lewis and Cancelo, which disrupted the instincts of a more settled defence.

City dumped on loan Joao Cancelo and Bayern Munich out of the CL.

Less rotation along the back line has resulted in greater solidity, providing a platform for the mesmerising forward play and goals bonanza of recent weeks.

It doesn’t hurt that a Nordic Meat Shield – who drew unfavourable comparisons with Klippity Klopp’s record signing Darwin Nunez after the Community Shield – has smashed 50 goals and contributed eight assists, thus far.

Erling silenced the baying Bayern crowd.

It begs the question how good will Erling Haaland be once he’s ‘adapted’ to English football? The fact that he’s already equalled the all-time Premier League goal scoring, record with half-a-dozen games still to go provides food for thought.

His individual tally of 34 is more than Chelsea (30), Forest (30), Wolves (29), Southampton (28) and Everton (25). It’s well within his gift to surpass the all-time English top flight goals record of 63 in one season, set by Everton’s legendary Dixie Dean in 1927/28.

No Haaland - no problem. Alvarez scores City's equaliser against Liverpool.

Haaland’s insatiable appetite for goals inevitably makes him the headline act in a team that is 100% Guardiola’s. Were it not for the Norwegian’s extraordinary exploits, Julian Alvarez – already a World Cup and Copa America winner with Argentina – would be in much sharper focus.

The comparisons with a certain Sergio Aguero were and are inevitable. With 15 goals to his name and every prospect of topping the 20 mark, Alvarez nicknamed ‘La Arana’ (The Spider) is already a favourite with the fans.

A returning Vincent Kompany saw his Burnley team blitzed 6-0!

Legends and heroes of the recent past e.g. Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Pablo Zabaleta have all been highly decorated in City sky blue, but has there ever been a better overall ‘team’ than that which a capacity Etihad crowd (53,000 +) feasts on in the here and now?

Grealish is one of the first names on Pep's team sheet.

Kevin De Bruyne’s statue must already be well beyond the design stage. Jack Grealish is undoubtedly the best ‘ball carrier’ in the Premier League. Rodri is the finest defensive midfielder in the world bar none. Bernardo Silva is indefatigable with more than a hint of brilliance. Ilkay Gundogan is football intelligence personified.

Could KDB be on his way to being City's greatest ever player?

John Stones is a never ending evolution of on field chic and passion. Riyad Mahrez is akin to a bottle of Chateau Margaux 1945 – admittedly not the best analogy for a non-alcohol drinking Muslim – he just gets better with age. Phil Foden is no longer the ‘Stockport Iniesta’, more like Andres Iniesta is the ‘Fuentealbilla Foden’.

Wembley hat-trick hero Mahrez.

Ruben Dias was just 23 when he joined City in 2020. He rapidly established himself as the Chief of Defence with a commanding presence totally belying his youth. Nathan Ake is a dark horse to be City’s Player of the Year 2023 after a season of superlative performances, whereas Manuel Akanji has surprised and delighted with his versatility and consistency in his debut season.

Dias and City's defence provide the platform for City's mesmerising attacking play.

Kyle Walker and especially Aymeric Laporte can consider themselves very unlucky not to have had more starts, as Pep juggled and changed his defensive structure and formations. Neither has ever let City down in the myriad of trophy winning seasons under the Catalan genius.

Ake is a dark horse for City's Player of the Year Award.

Ederson remains as arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, despite his occasional rushes of blood to the head! He’s Mr Cool when playing out from the back, unlike many of the flustered City fan base, who nigh on have heart attacks. It’s hard to believe he’s still only 29, having joined City six years ago.

Cool Hand Ederson is arguably the best keeper in the world.

What’s perhaps even more incredulous, is the virtually injury free status of the City squad at this late stage of the season.

Having had 16 players called up for the World Cup – more than any other Premier League club – Ake is presently out with a hamstring injury sustained away at Bayern Munich, whereas De Bruyne is nursing some ‘niggle’ picked up during his two goals and one assist, Man of the Match, display against Arsenal.

Heading in the right direction - can Bernardo and City win an amazing Treble?

A clean bill of health along with an alternative interpretation of the adage ‘form is temporary whereas class is permanent’, could make for a glorious blend, if City can maintain their present form over the next 40 days.

Let's hope Pep is smiling on May 28th, June 3rd and June 10th!

Class always trumps form but, not for the first time, Pep and his players appear to have harmonised the two together perfectly as the pressure builds on the run in to the plethora of prizes and titles.

By David Walker

Twitter: @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu

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